Professor Michael Mathew Walker ONZM, PhD, FRSNZ (1967-1971)
During his time at school, Michael Walker was in the 6A rugby team for three years and then in the 5As. He played cricket every year and, in his last year, played for the First XI. He showed early leadership skills, being the captain of three teams. In his early days, he played in the orchestra and sang in a choir. He was in top classes every year. While good at languages, he did not excel in either science or mathematics. It was sport that really kept him at school. Even at university, he got mediocre marks in biology. It wasnt until his third year that his marks picked up.
After his masters degree at The University of Auckland, he won a scholarship from the East West Center to the University of Hawaii. As part of his doctoral studies, Michael used a coil to produce a magnetic field in a tank with a tuna in it at the National Marine Fisheries Laboratory near the university. The tuna were trained to swim through a hoop which they would do, on cue, when the magnetic field was on.
After finishing his PhD, he had some years in the United States before returning to New Zealand and, subsequently going back to The University of Auckland where he continued to work on the magnetic sense of animals.
He rose to the rank of Professor in the School of Biological Sciences, leading the Behaviour in Space and Time Laboratory. He, and his students, have worked on trout, homing pigeons, honeybees and stingrays. There is also work on cells that may detect magnetic fields and nerves that connect those cells to the brain. As well as the very small, Dr Walker is working on the very large how animals use this magnetic sense in long-distance migration.
Professor Walker has an international reputation in this field and has had papers published in Nature and Science, the worlds most influential and prestigious scientific journals.
This is just part of his work. He is of Te Whakatahea descent and, in 1991, he established the Tuakana Programme in which first year university Maori and Pasifika students are mentored by older students. The scheme has been so successful that it has been adopted by all university faculties. Students from the Tuakana Programme worked on an outreach with Maori and Pasifika students from two south Auckland high schools. As a result of their work, there was a huge increase in university enrolments from these schools. Another initiative was professional skills workshops for senior undergraduate and early post-graduate students in the Sciences.
Dr Walker was also a founding Joint Director of Nga Pae O te Maramatanga, New Zealands Maori Centre of Research Excellence. He served on the Board of two Crown Research Institutes and he is on the Council of the Royal Society of New Zealand. In 2009, he was made an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit. At the 2011 National Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards, Professor Walker was awarded the Prime Ministers Supreme Award. He also won the Sustained Excellence in Teaching in a Kaupapa Maori context. These awards also came with cheques for a total of $30,000. As one of his students said of him, Mike was very approachable and friendly so was happy to answer any questions.
Michael Mathew Walker, biological researcher, academic, teacher, humanitarian, Albertian, Member of the Mount Albert Grammar School Hall of Distinction.